Monday 20 May 2013 11:53 UTC
Where have you been? What have you seen?
I'd never been to New Zealand, so when a business opportunity came up I started thinking about the flying possibilities as well.
Most pilot tourists seem to follow the accompanied flying route with an NZ PIC and I think this is the best advice if you have family with you, because my chosen independent route involved a great deal of hanging about!
Visitors can obtain a visitor's permit based on their foreign licence, or an NZ PPL. The fly in the ointment is a mandatory requirement for an approved course in terrain familiarisation which is being applied to all new PPL's and visitor's permits. This mandatory training is extremely well intentioned and apparently justified by NZ's unusal and sometimes extreme weather, combined with mountainous terrain, but the course is 5 Hours and something of a dis-incentive to a visitor with limited time in the country.
The permit is only valid for 6 months and a 'BFR' is required. Also required although I only found out at a late stage is an NZ 'type rating' in the intended aircraft - in this sense, a 152 is a different aircraft to a 172, regardless of how many hours you have in either.
I found the response from NZ aero clubs that I approached via email somewhat mixed, although this may have had something to do with my announced intention of renting a 172 for 10 days to go Auckland (In the N Island) to Queenstown (in the S Island). However, every club that I contacted had the courtesy to reply.
I was lucky to be put in touch via a friend who lives there with a club at Ardmore, one of the few who would rent an aircraft to go to S Island.
And so, armed with all my original logbooks, licences etc., and having pre-applied to NZ CAA with everything apart from the BFR (which can only be done in NZ), I set off for Heathrow.....
Last edited by David Viewing on Mon Mar 11, 2013 5:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Fortunately I had almost a week in LA at a convention, which helped stage the otherwise crippling 12Hr jet lag to NZ. I just did not have time to get to my beloved rented 172 in Arizona, so I had to put up with flying a 'Bravo checkout' out of Santa Monica instead. This involved a circular tour of the LA basin, overhead LAX, Long Beach and back via downtown at 1500'. Although I've flown the 172 into various LA airports including Santa Monica I've never dared to transit the class 'B' directly and this 'checkout' was very worth while.
The Auckland flight arrives at 5am Auckland time and there was nothing for it but to get a rental car and drive to Ardmore, 10mi from the International airport. Fortunately I found a hotel that would let me check into a room at that ungodly hour and suitably refreshed I presented myself at the Aero club.
They seemed quite surprised that I'd even turned up, and spent the first hour trying to put me off my planned trip with descriptions of incoming weather systems and the fact that the NZ summer had ended the day before. I got the impression that the NZ aero clubs get quite a lot of enquiries from hopeful PPL's and I had to work quite hard to convince them that a) I'd done this sort of thing before and b) I might be able to do it in NZ and bring their plane back as well.
After a while, it was like a dam had burst and the CFI said quite suddenly "OK, lets go and do the BFR then". This was partly because the weather was already turning and the next couple of days were indeed horrendous. So here I was, straight off the LA flight walking out to a 152 in a place I'd been in for 6Hrs and trying to convince a CFI that he wanted to rent me a plane to fly the length of the country.
Last edited by David Viewing on Wed Aug 22, 2012 10:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
The NZ AIP is freely available on t'internet. Here's a link to the airfield diagram:
Ardmore is very close to the Auckland International. Here's a screencap of the area borrowed from SkyDemon.
Most of the checkout / BFR consists of teaching you how to get back into Ardmore once you've left and with traffic coming from all directions it's Useful experience! Here's the view on departure looking NE to Auckland harbour. The city is in the right distance.
The BFR consists of the usual manoevres, stalls, etc and a PFL in the highly scenic area S of the airport.
We route back staying carefully over the Hunua and Waterworks VRP's. Auckland Harbour in the far distance, Ardmore right behind the range of low hills in the middle distance.
Then it's back to the airport for a deadside join ('Non-Traffic Side' in Kiwi).
I make a half respectable landing, switching to the parallel grass runway on short final as a twin announces he is on final behind us for the hard runway ('Sealed' in Kiwi). Standard proceedure at Ardmore and we land virtually side by side.
To my surprise, I find myself in posession of an NZ BFR, type rating in the 152 and completed temporary permit application form. Wow! I've come half-way round the world for this!
Ardmore to New Plymouth
Maps copied from SkyDemon
Huge storms are rolling in from the Tasman Sea and Ardmore is drenched in torrential rain. Sometimes it's quite hard to see the other side of the runway but about midday a break appears to the SW and I decide it's time to go. The little Cessna is quite watertight and starts eagerly. Even at the hold it's still raining cats n' dogs, but the bright patch of sky is ever beckoning and away we go. This close to Auckland airspace I have to be very careful about what I was shown during the checkout about the road and railway line that parallel the TMA, only a mile to the N.
Fortunately the break in the weather is right where I want to go and soon I am passing the glider site at Drury, another 'must avoid' highlight of the check ride. As we leave the Ardmore area I am delighted to see that SkyDemon is performing flawlessly, confirming my visual navigation and clearly showing the all-to-close CTR boundary.
I'm making for the coast now, so that if the storms close in I'll be able to descend to low level. To the N, Auckland harbour slides by and ahead the Waikato river offers a route to the sea. But by now I can see the coast away to the SW and at 1500' I am clear of the weather. This is my first glimpse of the Tasman Sea and a wild coast it is!
As I route South now I'm heartened by reports of good weather at my destination, New Plymouth and the fact that no high ground lies between it and me. Just off the coast, the sky is bright, but inland clouds are firmly glued to every hilltop. There are several airfields along my route and the first, Raglan, slips by. It's comforting to see that these coastal fields are easily accessible despite the weather.
South, always South, we go. Rounding each headland reminds me that New Zealand is a volcanic country and that each one of these hills is actually a volcano. Not so long ago (28,000 years apparently) they were spitting fire and brimstone into the sky. Now, it's just me up here - and in this entire journey I won't see another plane in the air.
Gradually the skies brighten and the runway at New Plymouth slides into view.
I got quite a good look at that 'little hill'. The hill in question is a vast classic Shield Volcano and it took a good 30 mins to fly around. Here it is as i depart the New Plymouth area, initially to the South but soon turning West to the coast to avoid weather inland.
My route today tracks the E Coast of the North Island down as far as you can go, to the capital city of Wellington. On my right is the Tasman Sea, strange and Exotic to European eyes, and far over the horizon is the continent of Australia. If I owned a plane here, I'd sure have long range tanks so that I could make that little hop (of 1200nm) whenever I felt like it.
Here's a rather fuzzy view of that 8000' 20 mi diameter 'little hill'.
South of the mountain the weather is clear for the long run down to Wellington. Here we are approaching Paraparaumu (Try pronouncing that on the radio!). Actually a very welcoming GA airport - wish I had time to stop over.
And finally, Wellington harbour. One of the most spectacular settings of my flying career. And I've seen some spectacular places, but this is just stunning.
At Wellington they don't seem to have too many VFR tourists turning up in 152's and they rise to the challenge, parking me in the engine test bay. This is a large enclosed area surrounded by 30' concrete walls that would protect the little Cessna from a hurricane if one developed (it didn't). There are even concrete tie down blocks.
(In NZ, they have heard the Rolf Harris ditty "tie your aircraft down, boy, tie your aircraft down" and i agree 110%, if such a thing were possible.)
I'm delivered to an international arrivals gate with instructions for how to navigate the labyrinthine corridors to get to the exit. In the morning, I will come to the flying club and have specific instructions for the cab driver because they've moved recently and most of the airport diagrams are out of date.
I really like Wellington and wish I could stay longer, but the call of the South is overwhelming. I'm almost there!
A note for pilots: If you come to Wellington, stick to the published proceedures. Just because they say "cleared to join downwind" does not mean that you are cleared to proceed direct to downwind - it means fly the published VFR proceedure to downwind. One of my instructors said "stay away from Wellington" and that's a bit over the top, but apparently it's not unusual to get a bo****ing and, in the nicest possible way, I was no exception.
I flew out of Welly for a year when I lived down there, still one of my favourite places in the world.
Marlborough Sound and Abel Tasman within an hour flight, spectacular.
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It's time to leave the North Island. However, I first need to refuel and it's worth saying a few things about fuel in New Zealand.
Every airfield or strip appears to have an automated fuel pump operated by Air BP. It's absolutely essential to have an Air BP fuel card, since these pumps do not take regular credit cards. My card was loaned to me by the flying club as part of my rental, since the pumps are unnattended even at a big place like Wellington and it would be hard to get fuel any other way. The club were thoughtful enough to test my card at Ardmore before I left and there was an unseemly fuss when it didn't work, or any of their other cards. Relief flowed visibly when it transpired that it was the pump, and not the card, that was out of order.
A couple of things to know about these pumps:
1) They don't print receipts, so comprehensive notes including before and after totaliser readings are essential.
2) They don't come with step ladders, so unless you have the foresight to pack one, you are looking for old oil drums, or any other rubbish, to stand on. If there are no oil drums.... There's always the Cessna's fragile and precarious step, quite a juggling act with a full size hose and nozzle in one hand, hanging on with the other.
Refuelling complete, it's time to depart Wellington.
Leaving Wellington harbour (this is the site of the Wahine ferry disaster in 1968) we head straight out into the 30 miles of the Cook strait direct to Cape Campbell at the tip of the South Island.
I consider that I'm an old hand at this channel crossing business, but I would hesitate to bring passengers on such a long overwater trip, especially while being held down at low level (1500') by Wellington ATC until half way across. I have the comfort of an ex Air NZ passenger lifejacket provided by the club, but no liferaft. I'm glad I have my 406 Mhz PLB from home because while the plane does have an ELT, this won't work well in the sea. At least the water here is likely to be a bit warmer than around the British Isles, but I soon notice that it's no Irish Sea in another sense. There are no ships to splash down in front of.
Soon, Cape Campbell and the South Island hove into view and thoughts of a lonely ditching are set aside until next time.
The South Island terrain is immediately more rugged that the fairly rugged North Island, but there are plenty of crescent beaches along the way. Soon, I begin to see the braided streams that cascade for the interior mountains down to the sea along this entire coast.
Rocky volcanic headlands punctuate this stunningly, overpoweringly beautiful coastline as the miles drift by, as if in a dream. So dreamlike, in fact, that at first I don't notice the ever increasing ETA at my destination as a strengthening headwind takes it's toll on the little Cessna's modest endurance.
Soon I'm approaching the famous whale watching resort of Kaikoura. There's fuel here, but I calculate that it's safe to continue toward my intended destination of Ashburton, but with no reserves for whale watching today.
Past Kaikoura, the coastline opens out into a wide plain between the sea and the central spine of mountains.
The cliffs give way to a vast crescent beach stretching away for ever to the South. I am approaching the Canterbury plains.
Now the headwind strengthens remorselessly. According to Skydemon my ground speed is down to 70kt and I know I am burning more fuel for a slightly higher airspeed as well. The kindly controller at Canterbury, doubtless noticing my snail's progress along the shoreline, asks if I'd like to turn direct to Christchurch away on my right.
I realise that Ashburton, still 50 miles away and directly into wind , is outside my range and that I will have to divert into Christchurch, my designated alternate, but not yet. First, I want to have a peek at famous Lyttleton, behind that very bumpy mountain range just ahead.
The wind at Christchurch is freshening now and I call with "a change of plan - request land Christchurch" which is immediately acknowledged. Now, SkyDemon comes into it's own as I hurtle downwind over this featureless plain, allowing me to pick up and identify completely unfamiliar VRP's like a pro. Too much like a pro, really, because the tower assume that I can identify runways as well.
Turning onto final, I realise that the grass to which I have been cleared is much less obvious than expected. I've already been told that it's "between the white marker boards" but there are white marker boards all over the airfield! (They shift the grass runway sideways during the season and it's far from obvious to an exhausted visitor which one is active). The controller senses my difficulty and says "cleared to land on the sealed if you'd prefer" which I gratefully accomplish.
I gingerly taxi in the gusty wind, remembering that taxying is the most hazardous part of flying a Cessna. and contact the aero club for a parking spot with tie downs. For once I am relieved to be on the ground, and still with an hours' fuel remaining. Ashburton will have to wait. For now, I have made it to the South Island.
(There's no flying in this chapter - partly due to the weather, and because poor ruined Christchurch deserves a chapter on it's own). The next flight leg, down to Queenstown, follows.
The next day I join the instructors at the Canterbury flying club gazing out of their magnificent picture window at the wind blasted airstrip and the bucking, rolling and heaving aircraft. Happily mine is still out there - securely chained after an hour of adjusting yesterday to get on just the right spot over the tensioned cables laid on the ground. I even found a spot where the wind had gouged a burrow in the ground for the noswheel, pulling her into place to avoid any risk of a prop strike.
I'm relieved to find that the concensus at Canterbury is "stay on the ground" and that I'm not just some foreign wimp whose afraid of a bit of a draft. So we talk away most of the morning, as flying people do. I tell them of EASA and they shake their heads sagely "that's why we all moved down here, mate" and that's exactly what they, or their parents, did, creating a new England in the South Pacific. I ask them about poor Christchurch, and would it seem tasteless to go and and have a look? "Everybody does" they reassure me.
The damage to Christchurch is far, far worse than anything I'd imagined from the news in UK. We all know about the poor cathedral (subject of huge controversy during my visit as demolition progressed) but the reality - the entire city centre fenced off and 400 major buildings put beyond use - is mind numbing. Almost 200 people died in the original quake and most Brits don't realise that another major quake in December caused more casulaties and devastating damage.
Virtually every traditional building in the city is either destroyed or made unsafe.
I am hoping to see the famous cathedral, but the area of the city centre cordoned off is so great that I never even get a glimpse of it. Instead, I cruise around the dead-end roads, every turn bring more shocking revelations.
Evidently a lot of the damaged buildings were of older steel frame construction where the fascias had been replaced. When the quake hit, these fascias fell away from the buildings into the street. This accounted for quite a lot of the fatalities.
Feeling that I've done enough rubber-necking to last a lifetime, I turn away from Christchurch to the little port of Lyttleton. I know that Lyttleton is reached by a long road tunnel and I do wonder if it will even be accessible. In the event the very long tunnel is apparently unaffected, surely a tribute to the designers.
My objective, apart from seeing the famous and now hideously damaged port, is to find one of what must be one of the world's most obscure museums - the torpedo boat museum.
I've always been fascinated by the Victorian navy, and this tiny building, accessible only by a remote clifftop path, houses the remains of New Zealand's only means of defence against Russian ships in the 1880's - The torpedo boat 'Defender'.
This tiny craft, built by Thornycroft at Chiswick in 1883, carried a 'spar torpedo', a charge carried on a long wooden pole that had to be rammed against an enemy ship and exploded electrically. Improbable as it sounds, these devices had been used successfully in the American civil war. Defender had lain on a beach at Lyttleton for almost 100 years and had eventually been bulldozed into a pile of scrap, before being dug up and preserved by enthusiasts.
Access to the museum is by courtesy of local volunteers and my host, who had come out especially, was rather surprised when another unannounced visitor just turned up. This gentleman produced from his wallet a faded snap of a small boy standing in the conning tower of Defender while she was still intact and lying on the beach. My host and I both immediately recognised the picture because it is in the museum's collection, but he was as surprised as I was when the chap said that the little boy was him!
He then told us a wondrous tale. He had grown up in Lyttleton and his mother had been a Lyttleton girl. She clearly remembered all of her life that day in November, 1910, when Scott had left from Lyttleton for the Antarctic and the bright pink dress which Scott's wife had worn as she stood beside him on the bridge of the Terra Nova. I found this account very moving indeed.
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